I imagine it’s not easy being one of the “New 7 Wonders of the World.” People are always questioning if you’re really all that you’re cracked up to be and you have to constantly live up to everyone’s expectations. It’s a tough act.
But if you’re Machu Picchu, you always deliver.
I’ve been lucky enough to visit Machu Picchu twice. Once while I was studying in Peru, and once when I went with a friend to visit my host family.
And it never disappoints.
Let me walk you through a little bit of what your journey might look like.
If you’re staying in Cusco, which you probably are because that’s the closest major city, then you will have to take a bus to the train station and then a train to the smaller city that Machu Picchu is in. Both of those are an adventure.
Depending on how nice of a bus you take the trip can be a little wild, but no matter what you’ll get to witness the beauty that is the Peruvian country side.
I’ve mentioned before about how Peru has this palpable energy about it. But no where is it more evident than on these long winding roads where the plains give way to sheer snow-capped mountains all underneath an expansive deep blue sky.
Next you’ll have to take a train.
The views are equally spectacular but in a different way.
The town that Machu Picchu is in is called Aguas Calientes. It feels a little bit like one of those fake touristy towns where no “real people” live, what with the souvenirs everywhere.
The second time I went we arrived to our hotel in the middle of a sun shower.
We explored a bit for the evening, ate some ice cream, and sat outside and played cards.
I recommend this strategy of “arriving the night before, so you can get up to the mountain super early the next day.” It worked very well for us. Because the alternative is what I did with my school the first time, which is wake up at 3am, take the bus from Cusco, then the train, then arrive at the park around midday.
Trust me this is not an experience you want to be sleepy for.
So, if you’ve opted for the first strategy you’ll have to head down towards the river in Aguas Calientes to take a bus up to the mountain.
Then prepare yourself for one of the more terrifying bus rides of your life. Having done this twice now, I feel like I can safely say that it really isn’t the bus drivers fault. In fact the level of skill required to navigate these roads is honestly incredible. But by virtue of the roads themselves, you will basically feel like you’re going to fall off the edge at any moment.
Once you arrive safely at the top you’ll walk through the entrance, you can even get a Mahch Picchu stamp in your passport, and instantly be greeted by the most incredible views.
I don’t know what it is about the mountains and the way the light falls on them here, but something always makes me feel like the whole thing is underwater.
If you arrive in the morning you’ll get to see the intensely blue sky before the sun washes everything out. But if you arrive during the middle of the day, you can stay until the park closes around sunset which is also incredible.
Many people think that Machu Picchu is the name of the Inca Ruins, but actually it’s the name of one of the two mountains at the site. Machu Picchu means “old mountain” in quechua, and Huayna Picchu means “young mountain.” And the former Inca city is nestled between the two.
When I came with my school they had taken care of getting us all permits to climb Huayna Picchu as they only allow about 200 people up every day. (That number may have changed since I was there.)
And while that could be frustrating if you’re trying to do it at the last-minute, I absolutely commend whoever came up with that rule. Because there aren’t a ton of people on the hike up the mountain it truly does feel more natural, the way it would have been back when the Inca’s lived there.
Well that and the fact that there almost no evidence of modern technology, including any sort of assistance or hand-rail while you’re climbing.
Make this trek at your own risk.
To be perfectly honest the hike was rather difficult. I’m not exactly in shape but in my defense the altitude at the peak is about 14,000 ft. And I’m from a city that’s at sea level. My lungs were a little bit out of their element, to say the least.
So yes, it might be difficult for the average person. But that absolutely should not be a factor when you consider whether or not to do it. Do it. It is worth it, I promise.
From Huayna Picchu you can also get a view of the ruins that people don’t often see. Everyone knows Hiram Bingham’s famous photos of Machu Picchu. But people don’t often see the ruins from the other side.
Once you get back down from the Incas “young mountain,” it’s time to explore the ruins.
Expect to make some llama friends.
They really are majestic creatures in their own way.
And eventually you’ll make your way up to Machu Picchu, the smaller of the two mountains. From here you’ll finally get to see the iconic view of Machu Picchu that everyone in the world knows.
(Don’t be surprised if you suddenly take on the persona of an ancient explorer. That’s par for the course. Or at least for me it is.)
If you ended up choosing the timeline that puts you in the park until sunset then you’ll also be treated to a sunset unlike anything you’ve seen before.
Machu Picchu should be on your list. If I haven’t convinced you yet, then let me try one last time.
The Inca Empire built the city in-between Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu around the 1450 and is believed to have been abandoned only about 100 years later. That leaves almost 500 years where it sat unknown to anyone other than the small groups of people who lived throughout the Andes.
For 500 years it was a secret to the world. And even though that secret was reveled by Hiram Bingham in 1911, trust me when I say that visiting Machu Picchu today still feels like a discovery. The ruins look so much a part of the landscape that it seems like the mountains themselves could have built them.
Machu Picchu is special, and if you ever get the chance to visit it I can promise you that it won’t disappoint.